Friday, 29 June 2012

Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard (Dell, 1974); Book Review, Original Novel, Basis for the 1974 Movie

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

From one 1974 Charles Bronson-starring movie and its original novel, next in this series of posts on books which begat perhaps more famous films we turn to another 1974 Charles Bronson-starring movie and its original novel – or, perhaps more accurately, novelization...

First published as a paperback original in the US by Dell in 1974, Mr. Majestyk is Elmore Leonard's adaptation of his own screenplay for the same year's Bronson-headlining, Richard Fleischer-directed Mr. Majestyk movie. I found this copy of the Dell edition in the basement of the fine Cecil Court secondhand bookshop Tindley & Chapman, along with another, earlier Elmore Leonard paperback original, one which I'll be blogging about down the line, and which shares with Mr. Majestyk a similarly monikered – but unrelated – character.

Though it's true that Mr. Majestyk (the novel) is, in effect, a novelization, it's also true that it's one of Elmore Leonard's best books. It's a long time since I've seen the movie, but I don't remember it being anything other than a pretty decent action flick – an estimation borne out by this contemporaneous New York Times review (although that review strikes me as being a little too dismissive). Leonard's novel, on the other hand, is short, taut, lean, and moves like a well-oiled machine.

The story centres on Vincent Majestyk, a melon farmer eking out a meagre living in the dusty midwest. Vincent is confronted by a hood named Bobby Kopas, who tries to foist a crew of inexperienced melon-pickers on Majestyk instead of the more skilled migrant workers Vincent usually uses. Rather than capitulate, Majestyk thumps him and sends him and his men on their way, and is promptly arrested. In jail awaiting a bail hearing, Majestyk meets mob hitman Frank Renda, and gets caught up in Renda's escape attempt; after unsuccessfully trying to turn Renda over to the cops, Majestyk finds himself beset by both Kopas and Renda – along with Renda's right-hand man, Eugene Lundy, and assorted hired thugs – leading to a violent climax.

Mr. Majestyk was only Elmore Leonard's third crime novel – prior to 1969's The Big Bounce he'd concentrated exclusively on westerns – but even by this stage his distinctive tone and style was firmly established. I've written before about his seemingly effortless storytelling – see, for example, this review of his most recent novel, Raylan (2012), or, more appositely, this post on Pronto (1993) – and that sublime and unique sense of a tale being told is present and correct in Mr. Majestyk. But Leonard's genius also resides in his handling of characters, and in the way he can elicit sympathy for even the most unsympathetic of players.

Of course, the "good guys" are compelling too, simply and deftly defined with just the merest hint of background (brief recollections from Majestyk of his time fighting in the jungles of Asia; Vincent's foreman, Larry Mendoza's loving family; Nancy Chavez, with whom Vincent becomes involved, and her hard life as a drifter and union organiser); but Leonard spends just as much time, if not more, on the "bad guys". Frank Renda in particular is a fascinating creation – cold, calculating, and yet troubled by doubts over his effectiveness as a killer, driven to pursue Majestyk even though common sense (not to mention his lawyer and mob bosses) dictates that he should leave well alone – but even Kopas and Lundy (who, curiously, share in common with Renda five-letter surnames) are given space to live and breathe, so that when their ultimate fates unfold, it's oddly touching.

I've been asked a couple of times recently where the best place to start is with Elmore Leonard; I've duly directed said interested parties to to his 1990 masterpiece, Get Shorty. Actually, though, on reflection, I reckon Mr. Majestyk is just as good a place to dive in: if you don't "get" Leonard after reading this one, you probably never will.

Next in this series of posts: another film from 1974, this time a cult car chase flick inspired by – but in fact markedly different from – an obscure early-1960s crime novel...

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Death Wish by Brian Garfield (Hodder & Stoughton, 1973); the Original Novel, Basis for the 1974 Movie

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

The two movies I've spotlighted thus far in this series of posts on books which begat perhaps more famous films – Where Eagles Dare and Jaws – are at least the equal of their source texts, and arguably better. But of course, that's not always the case with book-to-film adaptations – rarely the case, even – as this next novel amply demonstrates:

This is the British first edition of Brian Garfield's Death Wish, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1973 – the year after the US David McKay edition – with a dust jacket designed by Jefferson Godwin. I nabbed this copy at last year's London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair, for the princely sum of nine quid – which, considering the cheapest Hodder first on AbeBooks at present is twenty quid, with the remaining five copies ranging from £95 to well over £200, was quite the bargain. 

Death Wish wasn't Brian Garfield's first novel – he'd had over a dozen published prior to Death Wish, a mixture of crime works and westerns (a number of them pseudonymous) – but it was the first of his books to be filmed. That film, directed by Michael Winner and starring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey (Paul Benjamin in the book), was released in 1974, and would become notorious for its perceived glorification of vigilantism, with a quartet of sequels appearing in its wake. It's a long time since I've seen the movie, but I don't remember it being terribly good, and I certainly don't recall it possessing any of the depth of the original novel, which is a powerful, pacy meditation on loss, bereavement and revenge.

Unlike the comparatively toned and svelte Bronson of the film, the Paul Benjamin of the book is a middle-aged, overweight New York accountant (Bronson is an architect in the movie), and where Winner visualizes the opening assault on Paul's wife and daughter – throwing in a rape for good measure – in the book the attack happens "off-page". The first Paul hears of it is via a phone call from his son-in-law, and when he eventually learns of his wife's death at the hospital, he plunges into a spiral of rage and depression, frustrated at the police's inability to find the attackers, reduced to drifting about his apartment or aimlessly walking the streets of Manhattan.

It's not until halfway through the book that he starts to actively seek out trouble, fending off a knife-wielding kid using a kosh made of coins and then, in the closing stages of the novel – and having acquired a gun during a business trip to Arizona – embarking on a murderous spree. But there's no sensationalizing here: Garfield doesn't shy away from depicting these shootings as the squalid, sordid affairs they are, and leaves us in no doubt as to how damaged and increasingly unhinged Paul has become. Though there are glimpses of approval from the press, the public and the police, Paul's taking the law into his own hands is self-evidently a symptom of his grief and madness, thrown into stark relief by Garfield's extensive detailing of Paul's ordinary, humdrum day job.

Garfield went on to pen a further twenty-five or so novels after Death Wish, including Gangway! (1973), a collaboration with his friend and poker buddy, Donald E. Westlake – hence why I'm cross-posting this review on The Violent World of Parker blog (although Death Wish will be of interest to VWoP regulars in its own right) – and the Edgar Award-winning Hopscotch (1975). He also wrote a sequel to Death Wish, Death Sentence (1975, itself adapted for the screen – even more loosely than Death Wish, although more to Garfield's liking – in 2007), in which Paul continues his one-man war on crime in Chicago – where, oddly enough, Charles Bronson winds up at the end of the movie Death Wish. I haven't read the sequel yet, but this Pulp Serenade review got me interested enough to order a copy, so I'll be reviewing it myself at some point. And while we're on the subject of other folks' reviews, Olman turned his beady eye on Death Wish (the novel) earlier this year, noting Garfield's vivid and unnerving portrayal of 1970s New York, so go read his review for an alternative take on the book.

As for the Charles Bronson movie sequels to Death Wish, well, probably the less said about them the better – and who the hell knows what the mooted Joe "The Grey" Carnahan remake – set to star either Sylvester Stallone or Liam Neeson, depending on who you believe – will be like. But Bronson did star in a number of other interesting movies in the 1970s, including one in the same year as Death Wish – and it's to that film, and its attendant novel, that I'll be turning next...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Jaws by Peter Benchley: the Original Novel (Andre Deutsch, 1974), Basis for the 1975 Movie

Next in this series of posts on books which begat perhaps more famous films, we turn to a 1974 thriller, the 1975 movie adaptation of which has taken on a near-mythic status over the years – not least due to its problematic production – and is currently once again showing on cinema screens here in the UK:

First published in Britain by Andre Deutsch in 1974 – the same year as the US Doubleday first edition – Jaws was American author Peter Benchley's debut novel – although not his first book; he'd already had a couple of non-fiction works published by the time Jaws arrived. I found this Deutsch first edition/first printing at the Midhurst Book Fair a few months back, a snip at £9.50; copies of the Deutsch first edition/first impression (it went through multiple printings) can go for anything up to £100 – depending on condition – so I was rather pleased with this score.

It's worth taking a look at Tom Simmonds's full design for the dust jacket – which differs to the American edition – as it stretches round to the back cover:

As for the book itself, I must admit it's bloody ages since I read it – I probably borrowed it from Beckenham Library decades ago, maybe even in this edition – and so I recall more about Steven Spielberg's film than I do the original novel. Certainly the memorable opening scene of Jaws the movie, with the shark savaging the hapless female swimmer, is lifted straight from the book, and the novel ends much as the film does, with Brody paddling towards the shore after his close encounter (ahem) with the Great White (although with one significant change). But I do remember it being a darker affair than the adaptation – for one thing, Brody and his wife, Ellen, don't get on terribly well in the book – and there being a subplot concerning an extramarrital affair which didn't make it into the movie. Handily, IMDB has a list of differences twixt novel and film, although be warned that by its very nature the list is somewhat spoilery.

Thankfully, my memories of the next book I'll be blogging about are rather better, because I read it only recently; it's the movie adaptation I can't recall terribly well, although given its standing in the cinematic pantheon, that might not be such a bad thing...

Monday, 25 June 2012

Book Review: Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean; the Original Novel (Collins, 1967), Basis for the 1968 Movie

Behind every great man, or so the old saying goes, there's a great woman – and I'd suggest you could make a similar claim for great films: often as not, the movies that live longest in the memory have their basis in a brilliant book. So, with the summer blockbuster season well underway, I thought I'd embark on an extended series of posts on novels which begat perhaps more famous films. Some of the films to be featured in this run will be of the big budget, big box office returns variety; others more obscure or cult; and still others staples of the afternoon television schedules; but all share in common a terrific source novel, and over the coming weeks I'll be showcasing some of the first (and other) editions of those novels from my collection – beginning with a classic World War II action-adventure-spy thriller:

First published in hardback in the UK by Collins in 1967, under a dust jacket designed by Ian Robertson, Where Eagles Dare was Alistair MacLean's tenth novel (under his own name; he had a couple of others published under the nom de plume of Ian Stuart), and is the story of a daring raid by a squad of specialist British troops – plus one American – on the remote Alpine castle of Schloss Adler – headquarters of the German Gestapo. I bought this first edition/first impression in Dim and Distant in Heathfield, East Sussex, but there are plenty of firsts available on AbeBooks, although be aware that the Collins edition did go through a few printings, so many of the listings may well be for later impressions.

Now, I think I'm safe in saying that, for an entire generation, the movie adaptation of Where Eagles Dare has gone beyond cult status to become a totemic cinematic icon. Originally released in 1968, directed by Brian G. Hutton and starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, Where Eagles Dare always seemed to be on telly on a Saturday afternoon when I was a kid (see also The Eagle Has Landed, The Magnificent Seven, etc.) – which, I suspect, is part of the reason for its popularity. But it's also a tremendous film in its own right, stuffed with perilous action sequences, quotable lines and a showstopping cross-and-double-cross scene set deep within Schloss Adler. Both Quentin Tarantino and comics writer Garth Ennis cite it as one of their favourite films, and it even has its own dedicated website.

What's interesting is how so much of what's great about Where Eagles Dare the movie has its genesis in Where Eagles Dare the novel. All of the major beats are present and correct – the initial parachute jump into the Alps; the cable car set-pieces; the aforementioned double-bluff (or possibly triple-bluff) scene – while Richard Burton is the novel's Major John Smith personified, from his stoic cynicism to his legendary callsign to HQ ("Broadsword calling Danny Boy, come in, Danny Boy") – which, given that MacLean effectively wrote the novel for Burton, and actually penned the film's screenplay before the book (big thanks to both Paul Simpson and Jeremy Duns for pointing that out to me), I guess isn't so surprising. The only real differences centre on the character of Lieutenant Schaffer, played in the film by Clint Eastwood. Schaffer is rather more gabby in the novel than the taciturn Eastwood, and a lot less murderous: where Clint merrily machine-guns his way around the castle, the original Schaffer barely harms a soul.

Indeed, and as the Where Eagles Dare website notes in its introduction to the novel, the level of violence in the book is considerably lower than that of the movie. Smith and Schaffer actively go out of their way to avoid killing anyone in the book – the exceptions being the traitorous double-agents who meet their doom atop the cable car. It's an altogether jollier affair than the film, although no less tense and gripping.

That said, I think I still prefer the film to the novel, if only because it was the film I fell for all those years ago. And the same is probably true of the next book I'll be showcasing – the similarly totemic motion picture adaptation of which is currently on re-release in cinemas in the UK...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Damsel by Richard Stark (alias Donald E. Westlake); Alan Grofield #1, 1968 Hodder & Stoughton First Edition, Michael Dempsey Cover Design

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

Having showcased two never-before-seen Hodder & Stoughton British hardback first editions of Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's Alan Grofield-starring Parker spin-off novels – The Dame (1969, Grofield #2) and The Blackbird (1970, Grofield #3) – it seems only fair I should shine the spotlight on the other Richard Stark novel Hodder published in hardback: the debut Grofield solo outing, The Damsel.

Published by Hodder in the UK in 1968 – the year after the US Macmillan edition – The Damsel is almost as uncommon in British first edition as The Dame and The Blackbird: at present AbeBooks has just three copies listed, one lacking a dust jacket.

That jacket was designed by Michael Dempsey, and is quite different to the jackets of the other two books:

Dempsey was very active in British publishing in the late-1960s and throughout the 1970s: he was art director at both Heinemann and Fontana/Collins, and in 1978 set up Carroll & Dempsey with freelance designer Ken Carroll. You can read Mike's own account of the history of Carroll & Dempsey on his excellent Graphic Journey blog, along with all manner of other fascinating posts on design matters; Mike's recent, righteous tirade against a Raymond Hawkey rip-off cover caught my eye, but the blog has been going for four years now, and is absolutely stuffed with wonderful reminiscences drawn from across Dempsey's near-fifty year career.

Certainly Dempsey's dust jacket for The Damsel is elegant enough, I feel, to join the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery, where it has now taken its rightful place alongside his cover for the Heinemann edition of Patricia Highsmith's A Tremor of Forgery; and though they're not quite as refined – and I'm not sure they could be convincingly described as "beautiful", either – I've also added Craig Dodd's dust jacket for The Dame and Graphics Partners' one for The Blackbird – even though The Blackbird dates from 1970. What the hell: any excuse to include more Westlake books, I say.

And there'll hopefully be a couple more jackets from Westlake books joining the gallery before too long – one gracing a book I've already blogged about as a Westlake Score, but will be reviewing shortly; the other wrapping a brand new Westlake Score. Keep 'em peeled for those.

Next on Existential Ennui though, and with the summer blockbuster season in full swing: a series of posts on books which begat perhaps more famous films...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Westlake Score: The Blackbird by Richard Stark (alias Donald E. Westlake); Alan Grofield #3, 1970 Hodder & Stoughton First Edition

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

On to the second of two exclusive, never-before-seen-online Westlake Scores; and as with yesterday's Score – a 1969 British Hodder & Stoughton first edition of Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's second Alan Grofield novel, The Dame – today's offering is also a Grofield book, and again boasts a particular provenance...

First published in hardback in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1970 – the year after the US Macmillan edition – The Blackbird is the third of Westlake/Stark's Grofield-starring Parker spin-off novels, and is, of course, of particular interest to Parker completists due to the fact that it shares its opening chapter with Slayground, the fourteenth Parker novel. The Hodder edition of The Blackbird is just as scarce as the Hodder edition of The Dame: there's currently only one copy on AbeBooks, offered by an Australian seller, although it is, at least, priced slightly more attractively than the lone (ex-library) copy of The Dame.

I acquired this copy of The Blackbird from the same dealer as The Dame, and again it's Hodder & Stoughton's file copy:

But although its dust jacket design evidently takes as its inspiration Craig Dodd's design for The Dame:

It's actually credited to Graphics Partners, about whom I know virtually nothing, other than they also designed the wrapper for Sheila MacLeod's The Snow White Soliloquies. Whoever they were/are, however, by splitting the "Blackbird" in the title in two, they've made Westlake's pun rather blunter. Mind you, the later Foul Play Press paperback committed the same sin, but at least there they had the excuse that the design style they'd established for their covers meant they couldn't fit the "Blackbird" on one line.

Comparing the 1969 US Macmillan edition of The Blackbird to the Hodder edition, I think in this instance, unlike with The Dame, the British cover wins it. Jack Wolf's wrapper for the Macmillan Blackbird always struck me as a little ugly, although as my copy of that Macmillan edition is signed, I shan't be divesting myself of it anytime soon.

I mentioned in the previous post that Hodder & Stoughton published three out of the four Grofield novels in hardback in the UK. I've shown you two of them, but I also own the other one as well, and it strikes me that I've never really showcased it properly (aside from the odd shoddily photographed guest appearance). So, to complete the set, I thought we could take a look at it in the next post...

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Westlake Score: The Dame by Richard Stark (alias Donald E. Westlake); Alan Grofield #2, 1969 Hodder & Stoughton First Edition, Craig Dodd Cover Art

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

This week, as promised, I've a pair of very special Westlake Scores for you. Both of the books in question are incredibly scarce British first editions of Richard Stark novels; both boast strikingly psychedelic dust jacket artwork; and neither one, to my knowledge, has ever been seen online before, making them Existential Ennui/Violent World of Parker exclusives. Moreover, they're not just any first editions; they're first editions with a very particular provenance... And the first of them... is this:

A UK hardback first edition hardback of The Dame, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1969. It is, of course, the second of Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's four pseudonymous Parker spin-off novels starring actor-turned-thief Alan Grofield, and was originally published in the States by the Macmillan Company in the same year as the British edition.

Copies of the Hodder first are very hard to come by – AbeBooks, for example, currently has just one listed, an ex-library copy going for £120 – which is why when I trailed this post last week, I mentioned that we might all be in for a disappointment as regards the dust jacket. Reason being, I hadn't seen the cover when I bought this copy (for rather less than £120, I hasten to add), and so didn't know if Hodder had simply taken the US jacket artwork. Turns out they didn't, instead assigning the cover to Craig Dodd, who also designed the wrappers of the 1979 Jonathan Cape first edition of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and, less appealingly, the 1980 Hamish Hamilton first of Isabel Colegate's The Shooting Party.

It's interesting to compare Dodd's cover design to Muni Leiblein's artwork for the US Macmillan edition of The Dame. Both opt for a dame – naturally – holding a pistol, but whereas Leiblein's broad is sketched in pencil and has the book's title emblazoned across her dress (shades of Michael Gillette's much later covers for the 2008 Penguin editions of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels there), Dodd's dame is composed of heavy black lines, her swimsuit picked out by the reversing of the orange and red concentric strips. Of the two, I think I still prefer Leiblein's cover, but I do like Dodd's jacket, especially the psychedelic font used for the author name and title – echoed in the strange gun in the girl's hand – and that red-and-orange target.

My copy of the Hodder first of The Dame is in lovely condition, seemingly unread – probably because it almost certainly never has been. You see, it's not just any run-of-the-mill first edition – if one can use a phrase like "run-of-the-mill" in reference to such a scarce book; it is, in fact, the publisher's file copy, as evidenced by the stamps on the front endpaper:

and the title page:

Making it a one-of-a-kind item.

Hodder & Stoughton were Westlake's primary British publisher around this late-1960s/early-1970s period, but while they published many of the novels Westlake wrote under his own name as hardbacks, his Richard Stark novels, at least the Parker ones, were all initially issued as paperbacks – with the exception of the three Parkers that Gold Lion picked up (Allison & Busby later issued most of the Parkers as hardbacks in the UK, but that's another story entirely). The Grofield novels were a different matter, however: Hodder published three out of the four as hardbacks – including the next book I'll be blogging about, which again has never been seen online before...

Friday, 15 June 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books Review: Other Paths to Glory by Anthony Price (David Audley Spy Series #5, Gollancz, 1974)

Remarkably – to me, if not to you – it's been a good six months since I last posted anything substantial about Anthony Price and his David Audley series of espionage novels, and almost a year since I reviewed the fourth book in the series, October Men (1973). Oh, there's been the odd mention here and there, and of course the second Audley thriller, The Alamut Ambush, grabbed the number two spot in my 2011 end-of-year chart; but a proper return to the nineteen-book series is, I think, long overdue. Therefore, presented as part of Patti Nase Abbott's weekly Friday's Forgotten Books initiative – although in truth this terrific book isn't so much forgotten as perhaps under-appreciated these days – let's turn to the fifth Audley novel...

First published by Victor Gollancz in 1974, Other Paths to Glory introduces a new character to Price's series in the shape of Paul Mitchell, a World War I researcher at the British Commonwealth Institute for Military Studies. Mitchell is interrupted at work at the novel's outset by Dr. David Audley and Colonel Jack Butler of the Ministry of Defence's Research and Development Section – although Mitchell is initially unaware of their provenance – who present him with a photocopied map fragment showing German trenches in the Somme and then enquire after the whereabouts of Mitchell's boss, Professor Emerson. Later, on his way home, Mitchell is set upon by unknown assailants and thrown into a dangerous river, only escaping with his life due to becoming inadvertently wedged under a bridge. After finally extricating himself, and with no sign of his attackers, Mitchell arrives at his house to find his mother attended by a policeman and clutching a suicide note – one purporting to be from Paul himself. Furthermore, he's informed that Professor Emerson was killed earlier that day in a fire.

Before Mitchell has had much of an opportunity to digest all this, David Audley turns up again, and eventually convinces Paul to go "underground", letting everyone think he's missing (presumed dead) in order to assist Audley and Butler in their investigation into Mitchell's enforced "suicide", Emerson's apparently not-so-accidental death, and why the professor had become inordinately interested in an obscure engagement during the Battle of the Somme, and in particular a patch of French countryside known as Bouillet Wood ("Bully Wood" to the British troops)...

There's a telling line in Other Paths to Glory, when Audley remarks to Mitchell that "the past is always waiting to revenge itself on the present" (a line Anthony Price himself is fond of reiterating). It's a useful summation of the modus operandi of Price's novels, but it's also slightly misleading, in a couple of ways. For one thing, although Mitchell, Audley and Butler must follow the historical threads in Other Paths to Glory in order to reach the truth, that truth – and its attendant threat – is very much in the here and now – or rather, the then and now, i.e. the early 1970s. As Price explained when I met him last year, back then, for him, as for others, Communist Russia and China represented a clear and present danger (he memorably characterized himself to me as a "Cold War warrior"), and Audley and co.'s adventures were his way of addressing that menace.

For another thing, there's a kind of reverse-engineering going on in Price's fiendish mysteries. Plot-wise, the starting point for Other Paths to Glory is the Somme of the First World War, but the story really begins – unwitnessed by the players – in France in the "present" day. Mitchell and Audley may follow the path of deduction from the past, but in fact the way is paved from the other direction – indeed from Bully Wood itself, now ringed by an electrified fence and hiding a potentially lethal secret.

As he did in the previous three novels – The Alamut Ambush (1971), Colonel Butler's Wolf (1972) and October Men (1973) – each of which was related from the perspective of a protagonist other than Audley, Price again distances Audley in Other Paths to Glory, adhering firmly to Mitchell's viewpoint and thus making Audley more inscrutable and enigmatic than he would otherwise appear. There's a good reason for this narrative choice: Audley is invariably the cleverest man in the room, and usually three paces ahead of anyone else, which was why in the first novel in the series, The Labyrinth Makers (1970) – told, remember, from Audley's point of view – the withholding of information which was necessary in order for the mystery to work became more conspicuous. In Other Paths to Glory, however, Audley only tells Mitchell – and consequently the reader – what he needs to know, so that any concealment on Price's part is less noticeable, more natural – although it must be said that Audley is himself often in the dark.

But Mitchell also inherits Audley's role from The Labyrinth Makers, in that here Paul is the neophyte field man, propelled into perilous situations beyond his control. As such, his perspective on the other characters – Audley, the irascible Butler, and even Hugh Roskill, here making only a brief appearance after the traumatic events of The Alamut Ambush – is both illuminating and frequently amusing, their conversations – those pages of puzzle-solving dialogue that are the hallmark of Price's novels – as deliciously engrossing as anything from the four prior books.

In the end, Paul's bacon is saved by, aptly, an historical artefact, and despite an explicit warning from Roskill, who knows only too well from first hand experience how getting mixed up with Audley can impact a person's life (paraphrasing Bruce Bairnsfather's famous WWI cartoon, Roskill tells Mitchell, "'If you know of a better hole, go to it.' And that's pretty damn good advice, it seems to me—as far as you're concerned"), it's evident that Audley's promise of further intrigue and mystery has him hooked. Which, it transpires, may have been the aim all along...

Other Paths to Glory is a cracking spy thriller: brainy, gripping, scholarly in its grasp of the minutiae of the Great War – witness the testimonial on the right – and a fine whodunnit to boot; it's easy to see why it claimed the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for 1974 (going one better than The Labyrinth Makers, which had to settle for a Silver Dagger). Moreover, unlike many of the books I blog about, it's still in print, and readily available as both a paperback and an ebook.

I will, of course, have more on Anthony Price down the line, including a review of the next book in the David Audley series, Our Man in Camelot (1975) – said review hopefully appearing rather sooner than this one did. Next, though: all being well, another Westlake Score...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Westlake Score: The Split by Richard Stark (Gold Medal, 1968); Robert McGinnis Cover Art

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

After a run of Patricia Highsmith posts, it's time for a Westlake Score – and further evidence, as if any were needed, of the madness which consumes me. Because despite already owning three different editions of the seventh Richard Stark Parker novel – both under its original title of The Seventh (the 1966 US Pocket Books paperback first edition) and its later title of The Split (a 1969 UK Hodder movie tie-in paperback, and a 1985 UK Allison & Busby hardback) – I've now acquired a fourth edition on eBay:

A 1968 US Gold Medal paperback printing. Really, I can offer little in the way of defence here. I mean, The Seventh/The Split is one of my favourite Parkers, and this edition does boast Robert McGinnis cover art (featuring Parker modelling a fetching roll-neck), and furthermore copies of the Gold Medal paperback aren't easy to come by here in Britain; but even given all that, I'm still not sure I can justify this purchase – except that it does give me an opportunity to point out that, as with the 1967 Gold Medal edition of Point Blank, which is often mistakenly credited as being published in 1962 due to the appearance of a "Copyright © 1962" line in the indicia, the Gold Medal paperback of The Split – which, again like Point Blank, was retitled in order to tie in to its then-forthcoming movie adaptation – often suffers a similar fate; just take a look at the listings on AbeBooks, half of which are currently incorrect. Reason for that being the same as for Point Blank

The only indication of pub date is the copyright line from the original publication.

...Yeah, I'm clutching at straws for justification even there, aren't I?

No matter. At least this post gives us another opportunity to gaze at that great McGinnis cover art. And next week I should have a pair of much more interesting Westlake Scores, neither of which, to my knowledge, have ever been shown online before, making them Violent World of Parker/Existential Ennui exclusives. Mind you, I haven't seen the covers of either of the books yet (they're currently en route), so we could all be in for a crushing disappointment if they turn out to be the same as the American editions...

Next on Existential Ennui, though: it's the return of Anthony Price...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Introducing Choose Your Highsmith: The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine

So, having completed a series of posts on little-seen British first editions of Patricia Highsmith suspense novels – the dust jackets of all of which have now, of course, joined my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – I had intended to move swiftly on to a Westlake Score. But as is often the way with Existential Ennui – where I frequently receive behind-the-scenes emails from readers drawing my attention to literary matters which might be of interest to me – no sooner had I posted the final Highsmith missive than I was contacted by Steve Colca from W. W. Norton in the States. Norton publish many of Highsmith's novels and short stories, and on 4 June reissued twenty-one of her books as ebooks, including all five Tom Ripley novels. And to promote this happy event, they've come up with a fun web innovation:

Choose Your Highsmith: The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine. It's simple enough to navigate, but in case there are any grandmothers among us requiring further instruction vis-a-vis sucking eggs, here's how it works. You click on the "Choose Your Highsmith" button at top left:

Then click through to choose a setting:

Hmm... I believe I'll go for a European locale in this instance, which presents me with these options:

I'm thinking France, which leads me here:

Choices, choices... I think I'd like to read about a shooting:

Um, yes, really...

And there you have it: the recommendation is my favourite Highsmith novel, Ripley's Game, which does indeed feature a shooting in France, towards the end of the book. Although it also features a shooting in Germany, and there doesn't appear to be a "shooting" option if you pick Germany earlier in the process. But no matter: The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine is a diverting development both for Highsmith neophytes and for those of us who are more familiar with her work, and W. W. Norton have also included a short video on the site, which sees the likes of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel and Highsmith's biographer Joan Schenkar extolling the virtues of "the poet of apprehension" (as Graham Greene put it).

I'll have more on Patricia Highsmith in the not-too-distant future, notably a very special first edition of one of her short story collections. But next on Existential Ennui – and indeed on The Violent World of Parker blog – that promised Westlake Score...